In light of the Tim Hunt saga, now seems to be a good time to rerun this piece. I’m hoping to free up some time to write up some fresh stuff for ye – in the few scattered minutes where I’ve not been obsessing over finding a place to live and how to get rid of a ridiculous number of books, I’ve had Thoughts about privileged people’s responses to both Hunt’s sexist asshattery and the appalling slaughter in Charleston. I hope to share them coherently soon. Right now, I’m just wanting to grab certain people – almost inevitably white men – by the lapels, and shake them and shout at them until some sense penetrates.
One thing I will say is: good. I’m glad they’re whining about witch hunts. I’m glad they’ve been rocked back on their heels by the volume and effectiveness of the response. I’m glad they’re clutching at any excuse to avoid facing the reality that they’re losing. They’re losing their assumed and unquestioned superiority. They are being forced to share, and they can’t stand it. They’re being required to behave, and it’s outraging them. They’re facing actual consequences, and they have no idea why, or how to deal with it. They’re having to confront some damned ugly facts about how society works, and they’re completely horrified. Good. The louder they howl, the more they protest, deny, and try to accuse and redirect, the clearer it becomes we’re getting through to them, and it’s making them more uncomfortable than they’ve ever been in their clueless, privileged little lives.
This is why we raise our voices. This is why it’s essential that we never stop. Not until they’ve finished howling their wretched little lungs out, and are finally ready to listen. Then, only then, we might have a chance to speak without having to shout.
Read this. Read all of it. If you’re very busy and must read it later, read this bit right now.
These stories also remind us not to sit back and wait for some unseen hand to slowly right the wrongs of the past, because when we do, we allow those wrongs to be perpetuated and inflicted on new generations of women and minorities. And we are talking about generations: As a female scientist in the mid-to-late 20th century, my mother faced blatant discrimination and harassment. As a female scientist of the early 21st century, I’ve experienced more subtle, but still pernicious discrimination and harassment too. At the current rate of change, my daughter, whether should she choose to pursue a career in the sciences or focus on her passions in the political field, will be discriminated against and harassed too. I’m not going to wait for that to happen, instead I’m going to use all the voice I have to push our society, and particularly those with power in it, to make things better, faster. And if someone tries to silence me, there will be more voices raised, more calls to arms. Now is the time we raise our voices and say “The way we treat women and people of color is not acceptable. We will not be silenced any longer.”
This is why these matters are very much about discovering science. How can science be discovered when you shut out well over half of the human race?
So no, no silence. Silence isn’t always golden. Not for women, not for people of color, and not for the science they will discover and bring to the world. No silence, not ever again.